Motion pictures came to the subcontinent in 1896, when the Lumiere Brothers showcased six films at the Watson Hotel in Mumbai (then Bombay). This marked the introduction of cinema in India as we know it today. Dhundiraj Phalke is considered the pioneer of the Indian film industry who made the first feature film.
The success of his films prompted the rise of the first chain of Indian cinemas, the Madan Theatre. Film steadily gained popularity in all parts of the subcontinent in subsequent years, specifically in cities like Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Pune. Lahore, too, emerged as a hub of cinematic activity with a number of film studios, and it is from there that the Pakistani film industry began to emerge.
The Pakistani film industry has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The first studio and production company, United Players Corporation was established in Lahore (in British India) in 1929 by actor and director Abdur Rashid Kardar.
Film steadily gained popularity in all parts of the subcontinent in subsequent years, specifically in cities like Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Pune.
A year later the production company released its first feature film Husn Ka Daku (Mysterious Eagle), which, although, just a modest hit, managed to establish credentials of Lahore as a location for a functioning film industry. The studio then rebranded itself as Playar Phototone and released the popular classic love story “Heer Ranjha” in 1932.
Lahore’s film industry continued to thrive with the launch of some new production houses, such as Agha G. A. Gul’s Evernew Studios, Noor Jehan and Shaukhat Hussein Rizvi’s Shahnoor Studios and J.C. Anand’s Everready Pictures. The last of these, eventually became the largest film production and distribution company in Pakistan.
After independence, Lahore emerged as a center of the Pakistani film industry and soon enough, the first Pakistani feature film “Teri Yaad” (Remembering You) was released on the 7th of August 1948. The film featured Asha Posley and Dilip Kumar’s younger brother, Nasir Khan, and was directed by Dawood Chand.
Running for five weeks, the movie failed to woo audiences who were used to seeing superior quality Indian films. The fledgling film industry received further blows, as two major studios, Shorey Studios and Pancholi Pictures, owned by Hindus moved to India in the wake of partition.
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The making of Teri Yaad constituted a long, tedious process given the lack of proper equipment, financial resources, the absence of star casts and the ensuing riots in the country. Despite the film’s poor production value and lackluster reception, Teri Yaad ushered in an era of successful local films in Pakistan.
Teri Yaad’s release prompted other directors to try their hand at making and releasing movies in Pakistan, but it wasn’t until the 1950 that the Pakistani film industry finally struck a chord with the movie audiences in the new born country.
On 7th April 1950, director Anwar Kamal Pasha released his second film “Do Ansoo” (Two Tears) with actors Santosh Kumar, Ajmal, Sabiha Khanum and Allauddin. The film became a huge hit, attaining a 25-week viewing and becoming the first Urdu language film to celebrate a silver jubilee in the up and coming Pakistani film industry.
The first studio and production company, United Players Corporation was established in Lahore (in British India) in 1929 by actor and director Abdur Rashid Kardar.
The movie elevated Santosh Kumar and Sabiha Khanum to stardom. The 1950’s saw many milestones being reached by the Pakistani film industry. More and more cinemas were opening up in the country, especially, in the then, national capital Karachi, where ‘cinema culture’ prospered.
Names like Darpan, Noor Jehan, Sudhir, Nayar Sultana became household names and drew crowds to theatres. In fact, around this time a reverse movement began to occur for industry related individuals, who had earlier left Lahore for Central India, to pursue a career in film before the partition, now wanted to return to their homeland to carve out a career in the Pakistani film industry.
A famous example was actor, director and producer Nazir, who returned to his hometown Lahore to produce films in Pakistan. Noor Jehan’s directorial debut “Chan wey”, made her the first female film director of Pakistan.
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Gul remained the major producer in the early fifties, but J.C. Anand established himself as a topnotch producer in the country with the success of the 1954 hit “Sassi” (True), which received the golden jubilee status and proved to be a huge hit, playing in cinema halls for over 50 weeks. The popular playback singer, Ahmed Rushdi also began his career in the mid fifties.
The first Sindhi language film, “Umar Marvi”, was released and the annual film awards, the Nigar Awards were launched. Quota-restrictions imposed on Indian films at that juncture, also helped the Pakistani film industry blossom. By the 1960s, Lahore had become the foothold of the Pakistani film industry, the Hollywood of Pakistan.
The rise of the Pakistani cinema spurred Indian artists, including Sheila Ramani and Timir Baran Bhattacharya, to visit Pakistan and work in Pakistani Films. In 1962, “Shaheed” (Martyr), a film showcasing the atrocities against people of Palestine, directed by Khalil Qaiser, emerged as a big hit with cinema goers.
Despite the film’s poor production value and lackluster reception, Teri Yaad ushered in an era of successful local films in Pakistan.
The year also marked the debut of Mohammad Ali, who would later become an icon of Pakistani cinema. With the introduction of color films, “Sangam”, the first full-length colored film, drew audiences even more to cinema houses. In 1966 “Armaan” (Desire) became a mega hit in Pakistan, with 75 weeks in theaters and earning the rank of “Platinum Jubilee”.
The movie was written and produced by Waheed Murad, later known as the Chocolate hero of Pakistani cinema, who starred with Zeba in lead roles. The film had an immensely successful soundtrack, which is also credited with the introduction of pop music in Pakistan.
Hassan Tariq and his wife Rani also contributed to the success of Pakistani film industry with hits like “Mera Ghar Meri Jannat” (1968), “Anjuman” (1970), “Umrao Jan Ada” (1972) and “Ek Gunah aur Sahi” (1975). “Aina” (1977), featuring Nadeem and Shabnam in lead roles, is known as the last mega hit from the Golden Age, accomplishing the record of clocking approximately 400 weeks at the box office.
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During the 1970’s, some production houses toyed with the idea of horror movies and adult-only films in Pakistan, but failed to make a mark in those genres. The Shabnam and Ejaz starrer “Dosti” (1971) clocked 101 weeks at the box office, thus qualifying for a “Diamond Jubilee” status, further added to the credentials of the Pakistani cinema industry.
During this time the country was in turmoil due to the tragic dismemberment of East Pakistan, as well as the consequential political unrest in the country. The chaotic scenario began to impact the film industry, and soon a mob set fire to a cinema in Quetta just before the release of the first Balochi film, “Hamalo Mah Gunj”.
Piracy coupled with the advent of VCR further dissuaded the viewers to leave the comfort of their homes and go to cinemas. Hence, as time progressed, more and more individuals and families preferred watching pirated films on their VCRs. In 1977, General Zia’s successful military coup was followed by implementation of his Islamization agenda.
Under this new policy, film-makers were forced to comply with a strict censorship regime. New registration laws for film producers were enforced requiring stringent qualifications. The government forcibly closed most of the cinema houses in Lahore and banned numerous projects if it deemed them in violation of codes devised by the Zia regime, in terms of national interests, decency, morality and the public good.
The first Sindhi language film, “Umar Marvi”, was released and the annual film awards, the Nigar Awards were launched.
Having been left with little to screen and being unable to compete with home entertainment vistas (VCR, piracy, PTV), hundreds of cinema houses ceased to be operational. Enhanced tax rates further added to the woes of cinema owners, prompting them to convert cinema houses to shopping plazas.
It naturally impacted the number of films being produced in the country and had adverse ramifications on the standard of the films. The ever dwindling number of Urdu films in the 1980s and 90s stimulated the growth of Punjabi cinema. The violence and abysmal quality of the Punjabi movies further led the middle class families to abandon Pakistani cinema.
While cult classics, such as “Maula Jutt”, were successful, most of the movies failed to connect with the masses and tended to focus more on violence than quality. These so called “gandasa” films were targeting the taste buds of the illiterate audiences and thus failed to magnetize middle and upper class educated viewers.
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Pashto films also began showing soft-core pornography, which had a detrimental effect on people’s overall view of Pakistani films. By the 1990’s Pakistani cinema had transformed into a shell of its once prestigious self. The passion for Pakistani films began to die out in that era, especially after the demise of Waheed Murad.
Even Saeed Rizvi’s internationally acclaimed science fiction effort — the first of its kind in Pakistan – failed to lure audiences back to cinema screens. GVS spoke to veteran film director Syed Noor, who opened up about the fall of the Pakistani cinema, as under: “It wasn’t the film quality that started slipping, we were still making the same quality as much as it was the conditions of the cinema halls, which made them unsuitable for visits by family.” The 1990’s saw the complete collapse of the Pakistani film industry.
Piracy coupled with the advent of VCR further dissuaded the viewers to leave the comfort of their homes and go to cinemas.
The annual output of films was reduced to less than half of what it used to be in Pakistan’s golden era of filmmaking. The death of the famous director Nazrul Islam dealt a mighty blow to the industry. In the decade under the lens, Anjuman quit, Sultan Rahi was murdered and director Sangeeta decided to leave the industry to focus on her family.
In 1998, “Jinnah” premiered with Hollywood actor Christopher Lee, and the subsequent year saw the release of some films such as, “Dewaane Tere Pyar Ke”, “Mujhe Chand Chahyee”, Sangaam, “Tere Pyar Mein”, and “Ghar Kab Aao Gay”. However, the public failed to connect with these films, and by the start of the new millennium, the industry was pronounced as dead.
With no Indian films being shown in theatres, there wasn’t much to screen, therefore more cinemas and theatres closed. It took several years before there was another spark of hope for filmmakers, and this happened due to the arrival of Shoaib Mansoor’s “Khuda Kay Liye” (In the Name of God). The 2007 film focused on themes like religious extremism, terrorism and family, resonating with audiences across Pakistan and around the world.
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Around this time, many TV Drama makers and studios in Karachi developed an interest in using their TV equipment to produce films. Several other films were released, but none succeeded in capturing the audiences’ attention until Mansoor came back with “Bol” in 2011. The movie took the Pakistani audiences by storm, breaking and setting new records.
According to Nadeem Mandviwalla, the success of these films did not have to do with Indian movies being aired. “Indian films, are generally considered to be driving the revival of Pakistani cinema. However, this is only part of the explanation. Other factors and policy decisions – especially regarding taxation – taken by the Musharraf government between 2001 to 2006 are actually responsible for the revival of the whole industry.”
Prior to these changes, the government, and not filmmakers and studio owners, was earning profits from tickets, and the lowering of these taxes helped make it easier for more and more people to finance films. Bol (Speak) is attributed with reviving the Pakistani film industry because the success of Bol ostensibly stirred many production houses to contemplate seriously about investing in Pakistani films.
The annual output of films was reduced to less than half of what it used to be in Pakistan’s golden era of filmmaking.
This was visible when a new wave of filmmakers and actors came to limelight. It was followed by Bilal Lashari’s “Waar” (Strike) which became the highest-grossing movie for Pakistan. Films like “Ishq Khuda”, “Main Hu Shahid Afridi”, “Na Maloom Afraad”, “Lahore Say Aagey”, “Jalaibee”, and “Wrong No.” added to the list of successful Pakistani films. Another milestone was Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s animated feature film, “3 Bahadur”, which not only became the highest-grossing animated film ever to be released in Pakistan, but also one of the highest-grossing Pakistani films of all time.
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Pakistani cinema also had some moderate success with its parallel cinema ventures, namely, “Zinda Bhaag”, “Dukhtar” and “Manto.” Nadeem Bayg’s ensemble romantic comedy “Jawani Phir Nahi Aani” finally proved, once and for all, that the Pakistani film industry was back in action. The movie collected an unprecedented Rs. 49.44 crores, becoming a huge blockbuster. “Ho Mann Jahan”, “Actor In Law”, “Janaan”, “Na Maalom Afraad-2” and “Punjab Nahi Jaungi” have all been rated as highly successful with the latest becoming the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all time.
This year alone we’ve had hits like “7 Din Mohabbat In”, “Azaadi” and “Wajood.” Interestingly we’ve also had two of the best Pakistani films made in recent times, Asim Abbasi’s gloriously crafted “Cake” and the romantic comedy, “Teefa In Trouble”, which is on track to become the highest-grossing film of Pakistan. Both these films, like so many other hits, showcase just how far Pakistani cinema has come and for Pakistani filmmakers and fans, it truly offers a glimmer of hope for the future of Pakistani Cinema.